Horiatiki.

Did you miss me?

Well, I hope so. As for myself? Let’s just say that I am totally, absolutely in love with Greece. Not that I don’t fall in love with any and all vacations, but still.

The pictures will follow, at some point, as will the total recap that I like to do after a trip, but for now, I have to tell you about my new favorite dish in the whole wide world: the Greek Salad.

Fortunately, I have grown to love and utterly adore raw tomatoes. Okay, so I still won’t toss some salt and pepper on a slice and eat it all by its lonesome, but you get the point.

So on our first night, after a reallllllly looooonnnngggg trip to Athens and then another long trip to the island of Naxos, and yet another hour or so of wandering to find our hotel, we finally settled in to have dinner around 10 PM. Yes, one day in, and we already totally grasped the Euro-style-eat-late-mantra. At least in that regard, we fit right in. Which is to say that otherwise, we were absolute tourists. Well, I suppose not, since our luggage was nowhere to be found (stay tuned) and since I never did buy that fanny pack…

Anyway, I ordered a Greek salad to start things off (and duh, we’d already taken care of getting a bottle of wine – don’t be silly). Minutes went by, a couple of glasses of wine were tossed back, and then – then! – said salad came to our table. I realized, oh, about two bites in, that I could literally eat one of these salads every. single. day. And for the rest. of. my. life.

And that’d be alright by me.

I quickly realized that these salads were probably never going to taste as good as they did those first couple of nights. For one, I’m on vacation, which means everything just automatically tastes better because, well, you’re on vacation. And two, the produce was ultra fresh and ultra local – especially on Naxos. Feta cheese has never tasted so dang good. Oregano has never tasted so like, um, oregano. And the tomatoes? Holy moly on a Sunday – perfection. And I was right – but I promise you – even though the first few salads I had were the best, I never had nary a one that I didn’t eat every little morsel of – and wish there were more.

So without further adieu, I had a little backyard potluck party to attend this past weekend, and you best believe I decided to make one of these babies. Now, most Greek salads (called Horiatiki in Greece) have a certain set of ingredients. Most of them. Americans like to crumble the feta, they like to make a special dressing, and even some of the Greeks like to throw in some capers and different colored peppers every now and then, but I promise you one thing – there is only one true legit Greek salad. And I hope I did my best here to show you that.

If you want to hear it from a Greek herself (and not just a poser like me), check out this link. It’s sorta funny, how hardcore the true Greeks are about their salads. Sorta like the Chicagoans and their Chicago-style wieners. Regardless, I hope you like it, because I most certainly do.

Greek (Horiatiki) Salad

the quantities are totally serving-dependent, but the measurements below are for the size salad you see directly above, which probably serves 6-8 people as a salad/side dish, 4 as a main course with a hefty chunk of bread alongside. or, if you’re like me, maybe it’s just for one…

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into thin rings
2 English cucumbers, cut into chunks
6 vine-ripe tomatoes, each sliced into 8 wedges
~1 c Kalamata olives
2-3 large slices of feta cheese (NOT crumbled)
~1-2 T red wine vinegar (depending on how much acid:oil you prefer, most Greek salads have much more oil than vinegar)
~6-7 T GOOD olive oil (duh, Greek if you have it)
1 t Greek oregano
salt and pepper

instructions
place onion through olives in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. top with feta cheese, then pour vinegar and olive oil atop the salad and finish with oregano, salt, and pepper to taste.

No Expiration

I am really bad about making phone calls, and living 2 and 3 hours away from most of our friends and all of our family doesn’t help. I blame my career – talking to patients and co-workers all day results in me being less likely to pick up the phone and dial up a friend just to chat.

That said, I appreciate that most of my friends are just like me in that respect. Because of that mutual bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) habit, we also tend to have plenty to catch up on when we do chat, and there’s no blaming one another for not calling sooner. It’s sort of awesome.

Cheryl is definitely one of my favorite friends of all time. She’s the one with the boat and the ex-boyfriend who just happened to be Indian (who made killer chai mixes), and the one with the current boyfriend with the camera, who also just happens to be awesome. Cheryl’s a person who I know, without a doubt, will always keep up her end of the deal, which is why we’ll be together at Thanksgiving for years and years to come and I know we’ll always keep in touch, even if we only talk to each other every few months.

We had the chance to catch up last week, and as is usually the case, we had quite a bit to talk about.

For starters, she has a fancy new job. It seems as if we’re all moving around these days, and while she’ll continue to live in Minnesota, she gets to shake it up a bit with some new surroundings. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to hear more once she gets settled in a little bit. I also can’t wait to hear how she’s faring with dressing like an adult, since she’s had it easy in her low-key lab set-up, right Cheryl?!

Secondly, she and Luke are making wine! How awesome is that?! It seems that homebrews are all the rage these days, and we never seem to land in a city that allows us to have things like basements and storage space, so we never get around to doing such things. The good part is that we get to partake in others’ brews, so we’re hoping that come Thanksgiving, there are a few bottles of wine coming our way :).

Finally, we had a random conversation about moving, and about accumulating loads of, well, crap. Generally, moving is a good excuse to rid yourselves of all of that crap, but this time we didn’t do the packing, so we didn’t do as much ‘cleaning’ as we would have liked. That said, we had a few boxes with questionable material inside. One box was full of bags, since I used to save practically every handled bag I got from shopping; clearly I did not need to store such things. Another box was extra-creepy: it seemed to be full of a smelly powdery substance that looked like pollen; perhaps something disintegrated over the course of two months? Who knows! Anyway, it was interesting nonetheless.

Most of my pantry items came through the move with flying colors, some that maybe should have been inspected with a bit more precision than others, though. But as it turns out, it was all for good. I drove home the other day (exactly one day after Cheryl and I had this random coversation about weird items found when moving), excited to make this Mexican casserole, a dish that would feed us for days – days! I got home, started pulling out my ingredients, and I realized I was missing two items: enchilada sauce AND canned green chiles. In a desperate move to avoid having to call Chris yet again with an on-the-way-home-from-your-already-long-commute-grocery-list, I panned the pantry frantically. Lo and behold, both, yes both, items were there. The only “issue” was the expiration date, a “best by 1/2009” stamp slapped across the bottom of both of them led me to hesitate for a few minutes a split second. I forged ahead, and things turned out just fine. So sometimes, all those weird, extra items come in handy – and as I found out, some things never seem to expire!

Mexican Chicken Casserole
adapted from Cooking Light, January 2011; serves 8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (45 minutes active)

a couple of quick notes on this recipe: I’m not convinced that making my own roasted tomato salsa added much to the recipe. Not that it’s hard to make, but if you’d like to keep the food processor on the shelf and shave off a little time, you could probably get away with skipping the salsa part and buying a jar of roasted tomato salsa. i left it in the recipe so you can decide for yourself. also, the chicken. I figure most of us don’t have shredded chicken sitting in the fridge, so I added this step into the time commitment above. i bought a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and shredded it the night before. my shredded chicken was about 5 cups, so you can save the remaining 2 cups for a mexican chicken salad or panzanella salad, or whatever else you fancy.

printable version

ingredients
Salsa
8 plum tomatoes, halved and seeded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, quartered
olive oil
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
3 T fresh lime juice
1/8 t black pepper

Casserole
3 c cooked chicken breasts &/or thighs
1 c chopped onion
1 c fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 c diced zucchini
1 c chopped red bell pepper
1 T minced garlic
2 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 c (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 c (4 ounces) crumbled cotija or feta cheese

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare salsa, combine first 4 ingredients on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Broil 20 minutes or until charred, stirring once. Remove from oven; cool slightly. Place tomato mixture in a food processor; add cilantro, lime juice, and pepper. Process until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Shred chicken meat and measure out three cups.

To prepare casserole, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, corn, zucchini, and bell pepper; sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and next 5 ingredients (through green chiles); sauté 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange half of tortillas over salsa (they will obviously overlap quite a bit). Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture evenly over tortillas. Top with 3/4 cup salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of each cheese. Repeat layers, starting with remaining tortillas and ending with remaining cheeses. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until bubbly.